DARPA lets slip the AlphaDog of war

The improved robotic "pack mule" can carry a lot of gear for soldiers, follow them in the field and even charge their radios.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency released new footage of its AlphaDog this week, a technological marvel of emerging technology that could turn the tide of battle, or at least carry a lot of heavy gear for soldiers.

Technically designated the Legged Squad Support System (L3), the AlphaDog can traverse rough terrain, plow through underbrush, follow soldiers in the field, act as a charging station for radios, and generally scare the hell out of any enemy soldier it comes across. Its original concept was to simply replace pack mules, which are still being used in some part of the world. But it’s become a lot more than that.

The L3 is stuffed with sensors that allow wireless control and enough processing power to perform small tasks on its own, such as righting itself should it fall down, which is shown on the video. It has some voice recognition capabilities too, and you know soldiers are going to want to tell it to “sit,” “beg,” and “roll over.”

The current version is 800-pounds, but can carry 400-pounds of gear for 20 miles without further intervention. Previous models were loud, but this one just emits a low humming sound, except when it’s crashing through miles of underbrush, of course. It’s still no ninja.

And as essentially a pack mule, it’s not quick, walking at 1 to 3 miles per hour, jogging at 5 mph and, eventually, getting up to 7 mph over a flat surface, DARPA says. That’s a far cry from DARPA’s CheetahBot, which recently hit a record speed of 28.3 mph, faster than the 27.78 mph Usain Bolt topped out at during his world record 100-meter run.

In all, though, the new L3 is pretty amazing. It’s at least two years of testing away from getting certified for use by the Marines, which is the military branch most interested in this new technology.

But I have to say, as much as I like the L3, I love my original, slightly more ridiculous, M.U.L.E. better. It’s been carrying my gear and helping me colonize planets since 1983.

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